Dreaming in Cuban, published in 1992, was Cristina Garcia's first novel and was a finalist for the National Book Award. The novel has been critically and academically acclaimed. It is frequently anthologized as well as taught in literature classes. Garcia highlights many themes, such as family, relationships, politics, and spiritualism. The fragmented narrative jumps back and forth in time, incorporates some epistolary chapters (letters from Celia) and is told from the perspective of multiple narrators: primarily from the three generations of women in the del Pino/Almeida family.

As fragmented as the narrative can be, there is a rhythmic balance, a lucid ebb and flow between the often turbulent events and the lush imagery that describes them. Garcia has stated that the novel began as a poem and this poetic tendency, which might be described as Symbolist and/or Romantic, interweaves relatively seamlessly with Garcia's brand of magical realism, most often associated with the work of Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

The story is structured around the Cuban Revolution: the politics, family life, spirituality, and the cultural consciousness of native Cubans and Cuban exiles living in the United States. The four main characters in the novel (Celia, Lourdes, Felicia, and Pilar—women of the del Pino family) have significantly different personalities and different reactions to the revolution. Celia, the matriarch, is an ardent Castro supporter. Her daughter, Lourdes, is a Joe McCarthy-like figure. Celia's second daughter, Felicia, after three doomed marriages, practices Santeria for solace. And Pilar, Lourdes' daughter, is the rebellious teen who turns out to be the psychical bridge between Cuba and the U.S. as well as between Lourdes and Celia. Perhaps one of the most important points in the novel is the diversity and individualism of Cubans and Cuban exiles and the complexity of individual identities in a family which lives between those two worlds (Cuba and the United States...or three worlds if you count the "in-between" world of magical realism where Lourdes talks to her dead father, Felicia becomes a priestess, and Pilar—while living in New York—talks to her grandmother, Celia, who lives in northern Cuba). Pilar's transcendental correspondence with Celia is the primary example of living in one world and dreaming in the other.


(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Dreaming in Cuban is the story of three generations of a Cuban family, told from a variety of points of view. The story begins with Celia del Pino, an aged woman, watching the waters off the north coast of Cuba with binoculars. She is on guard, devoted to The Revolution and El Lider (Fidel Castro, who is never mentioned by name in the book).

The novel is not told in straightforward, narrative terms, although there is a clear narrative thread running through the story. The book shifts back and forth between scenes, and the narrative is told from a variety of points of view. Some of it is told in the first person by Celia, Lourdes, and Pilar, including a number of extracts from Pilar’s diary. There are also numerous flashbacks to the past, mostly Celia’s past.

One device that is used to re-create the past is a series of letters that Celia wrote over a period of more than two decades. All of these letters were written to Gustavo Sierra de Armas, her first lover, a Spanish lawyer. After Gustavo returned to Europe in 1935, Celia wrote to him monthly up until 1959, when the revolution succeeded and Celia became a dedicated Communist. Throughout the book, Celia speaks of The Revolution (always capitalized when Celia’s point of view is espoused) in the present tense.

Felicia, Celia’s second daughter, still lives in Cuba and never leaves that country; unlike her mother, however, she continuously refers to the present political state of her country as one of tyranny. Felicia is married three times, but never happily. Her first husband, Hugo Villaverde, the father of Felicia’s three children, is never actually seen during the periods covered by the story, although he is alluded to a number of times. In 1966, Felicia threw a burning rag into Hugo’s face, then locked herself and her children in the house....

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(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

Dreaming in Cuban, Cristina Garcia’s first novel, chronicles the lives of three generations of women as they strive for self-fulfillment. This bittersweet novel also illustrates the Cuban American immigrant experience in the United States, focusing on the search for cultural identity in exile. In Cuba, for twenty-five years, the matriarch Celia del Pino writes letters to Gustavo, a long lost lover. She never sends the self-revealing correspondence, and stops writing in 1959, at the time of the Cuban Revolution, when the family becomes divided by politics and her granddaughter Pilar is born.

Celia, who believes that “to survive is an act of hope,” sublimates her unfulfilled romantic desires by imagining herself as a heroine of the revolution. In need of recognition, she supports Fidel Castro devotedly. As her husband Jorge del Pino leaves her to join their daughter Lourdes in the United States, she spends her days scanning the sea for American invaders and daydreaming about a more exciting life.

Felicia, Celia’s youngest daughter, abused and abandoned by her first husband Hugo Villaverde, suffers from fits of madness and violence. A stranger to herself and her children, she seeks refuge in music and the Afro-Cuban cult of Santeria; after becoming a priestess, she finds peace in death. Lourdes, Celia’s eldest daughter, raped and tortured by the revolutionaries, loses her unborn son. She escapes from Castro’s Cuba with her husband Rufino del Puente and their daughter Pilar. Emotionally unfulfilled, she develops eating disorders; while her family dreams of returning to Cuba, she supports the anti-Castro movement, establishes a chain of Yankee Doodle bakeries, and focuses on achieving the American Dream.

Raised in Brooklyn, in conflict with her Americanized mother, Pilar identifies with her grandmother Celia in Cuba. She visits the homeland in search of her true identity and, as she receives Celia’s legacy of letters and family stories, she becomes aware of the magic inner voice that inspires artistic creativity. Pilar returns to America with a positive self-image, accepting her double identity as a bilingual and bicultural Latina.

Dreaming in Cuban represents the coming-of-age memoir narrative. Through recollections and nostalgic remembrances, the novel illustrates issues of identity and separation, women’s survival strategies, and cultural dualism.